There are four factors that wine lovers – whether collectors or just regular consumers – should be aware of when choosing how to store their wine: temperature, light, humidity, and vibration. We’ll cover why these are concerns, and how to minimize their effects, in each case this site.
Most experts agree that temperature is the most important factor in storing wine. Generally, the ideal temperature is believed to be about 55 degrees F, with minor fluctuations of a degree or less over time.
In the aging process of wine, many complex chemical changes occur over time. Each of these reactions occurs at a certain rate. As with most chemical reactions, heat causes or accelerates the rates of these reactions. As a result, less than ideal temperatures change the rate at which wine matures.
Consider the desirable changes – those changes that enhance the aroma and flavor of the wine – the reason we age wine in the first place. When the temperature is higher than ideal, these changes occur faster than anticipated. This leads to the wine peaking in quality much earlier than expected, and declining thereafter, much faster as well. In addition, due to the complexity of interactions between these various reactions, they may be out of synch with each other, upsetting the balance in the wine.
In addition to the effect of the average temperature, the temperature fluctuation should also be taken into consideration. As the temperature of the bottle (and wine) rises and falls, the cork expands and contracts slightly, loosening over time. The worst fluctuations are those that occur daily – the more often the cork expands and contracts, the more it loosens. This loosening leads to the leaking of wine out and air in, resulting in oxidation and the undesirable aromas and tastes that oxidation causes. Temperature fluctuations over the seasons are not nearly as much of a problem, however, since they do not occur frequently.
How much difference does temperature make in the rate of aging of wine? Estimates are that raising the storage temperature to room temperature (around 72 degrees F, as compared to the ideal 55 degrees F), increases the aging rate somewhere between 2 and 8 times, more likely on the higher end. That translates into the storing of wine at room temperature for 3 years being equivalent to storing it at 55 degrees for between 6 and 24 years. And, of course, it gets worse, the warmer the storage temperature. Storing a wine in a closed car on a hot day can have a similar effect on the wine as storing it for years; in fact, a “cooked” wine can result, ruining it completely.
Since the range of the effect of temperature on wine aging is wide and difficult to predict (how could you realistically compare a wine that has been stored ideally for 20 years with another bottle of the same batch that had prematurely aged after, say 3 years?), it is very difficult to determine when a wine has peaked, and declined, and to what extent. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to permit these effects to risk the quality of your prized wines.